COLUMBUS, Miss.–With the feds threatening serious cuts to the Lakota helicopter program, American Eurocopter has been trying to rally support in recent months. A deal being made in Washington right now could be a boost for the company, and support is coming from Mississippi’s two senators.
Thailand wants six of the choppers, along with training and equipment. That order, brought through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, would total about $77 million.
Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker both believe it’s a good idea.
“The sale of these aircraft has the potential to benefit our relationship with an important ally and to enhance the reputation of Mississippi’s manufacturing capabilities. The men and women who produce the Lakota helicopters for the Department of Defense are among the best in the industry. This proposed sale will give them certainty about the future and help ensure this plant is able to continue to efficiently support the U.S. military,” said Cochran, vice chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
“The purchase of these helicopters comes during an important time as our defense strategy pivots toward Asia,” said Wicker, a senior member of Senate Armed Services Committee. “I have great confidence that the Lakota aircraft will provide our Thai allies with the ability to work seamlessly with American forces. International support for the Lakota speaks volumes for Mississippi’s continued success as a high-tech manufacturing leader.”
At a rally for American Eurocopter last month, Gov. Bryant signaled his support for the company and his confidence in Mississippi as a high-tech manufacturer.
“I firmly believe the proposal to decrease funding of the Lakota helicopter program was made in haste. During a time when our country is in dire financial crisis, I understand cuts must be made to alleviate some of the strain on the national debt,” said Bryant. ”However, it is counterproductive for the Department of Defense to cancel this cost-effective, successful program, as every helicopter produced here has been delivered on time and on budget.”
The 2014 budget will cut the production from 31 helicopters down to only ten, and the 2015 budget eliminates the production request altogether which will effectively end the program.
Cochran and Wicker, in a joint news release Thursday, touted the success of the line thus far.
“Every delivery of the Lakota to the United States Army, which is produced at Golden Triangle Regional Airport, has been ahead of schedule and under budget,” said the release. “The helicopter is primarily used by the U.S. Army for non-combat missions including emergency response, border security, and light transport.”
DSCA has also indicated that the proposed sale, which continues to be reviewed, will enhance interoperability between Thailand and the United States, while not adversely impacting U.S. defense readiness. According to Inside the Army, this sale could be the precursor to additional aircraft purchase requests from the government of Thailand. It was unclear if that included more Lakota purchases.